It’s time the state realizes this would be the surest path to environmental and economic degradation.
By Chris Buchanan, Special to the Press Herald
Portland Press Herald op-ed
BELGRADE — The proposed east-west transportation, communications and utility corridor has raised important questions regarding the state’s transportation policy.
Two bills have been introduced by Maine legislators to ensure the proper role for the state in transportation planning, maintenance and development, without increasing regulations or stymying infrastructure that is desired by local people. The bills would create an equal playing field for all significant transportation proposals that may be governed by the state’s law on public-private infrastructure projects.
L.D. 506, An Act to Improve Public-Private Transportation Partnerships, introduced by Rep. Ralph Chapman, D-Brooksville, and co-sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, will be the subject of a Transportation Committee work session Thursday.
The bill’s summary states: “This bill changes the law governing public-private partnerships to develop transportation facilities by removing the Department of Transportation’s authority to receive unsolicited proposals and to limit those proposals solicited by the department to those in accordance with the Sensible Transportation Policy Act.”
Davis is the sponsor of L.R. 373, An Act to Prohibit the Delegation of Eminent Domain Power to Private Entities. The proposal prevents eminent domain from being used by a private entity for transportation projects, or on behalf of a private entity in certain public-private partnerships.
The need for state legislation has been demonstrated by the efforts of communities to protect themselves from the proposed East-West Corridor. Eight towns – Abbot, Charleston, Dexter, Dover-Foxcroft, Garland, Monson, Parkman and Sangerville – have passed a local regulation, be it a moratorium, referendum, local self-governance or land-use ordinance.
In addition, local people of all political persuasions have formed organizations in opposition to the proposed corridor. One such group, started by grandmothers from Charleston – Grandmothers Against the East-West Corridor – gets together every fourth Friday to lead a silent vigil in front of the Pittsfield headquarters of Cianbro Corp., which proposed the private highway. All this is an example of how many people feel threatened and left vulnerable by existing state laws.
Over the past three years, Stop the East-West Corridor has focused on developing resources, advocating for transparency and supporting decentralized local resistance to the proposed East-West Corridor.
We are all Maine residents working together to help support people with a variety of concerns who are still unable to find answers to their questions from private or public officials.
It is time to ensure that we don’t have any more unfounded proposals that waste taxpayers’ time, money and resources the way the East-West Corridor is doing. The bills introduced by Sen. Davis and Rep. Chapman go a long way to address this problem and deserve the support of all the people of Maine.
Cianbro has been mostly quiet about its progress. However, Cianbro President Andi Vigue voiced continued support for and commitment to the corridor in a WABI-TV 5 news broadcast on June 16, 2014, and in May 2014, Maine Magazine published a feature piece with a photo of Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue in Wesley, where the corridor would “cross Route 9.” Like an inexplicable dark cloud on the horizon that never goes away, the corridor proposal lingers.
That the East-West Corridor is not in the public’s best interest was well documented in the state’s 1999 east-west highway feasibility studies. These studies explored the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of a new public toll highway from Calais to Coburn Gore, along with several other options.
In the end, the state concluded that the new-build option would create the most environmental impact, would not significantly increase manufacturing, would not stop people from moving away and was likely to create a negative bypass effect on rural downtowns, especially in Washington County, which is primarily served by east-west roads.
The price tag for construction at that time was $1.2 billion, although the total costs – incorporating all the negative factors, not just money – were estimated at $439,239 in 2015 and $229,691 in 2030 per job created.
Therefore, the state concluded that the costs outweighed the benefits; in other words, that a new public toll highway would have an overall negative economic impact. Instead, the state decided to improve Routes 9 and 2, a plan that the Maine Department of Transportation is still pursuing.
Why then are we still having to mobilize against this ill-conceived proposal for the East-West Corridor? It is time for reasonable state laws that prioritize the public interest in planning state transportation infrastructure.
About the Author: Chris Buchanan of Belgrade is statewide coordinator of Stop the East-West Corridor.